The thin presence of foreign vendors at the Dhaka International Trade Fair has not only upset the visitors but has done great disservice to the reputation of the annual exposition itself.
On paper, companies and traders from India, China, Pakistan, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and Turkey are taking part in the fair, according to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), which has co-organised the exhibition in association with the commerce ministry.
But the participation of foreign companies is largely limited to booths set up by their local distributors and stalls owned by locals selling imported goods.
"I came to check out the foreign stalls, but they are few and far between. I am rather disappointed," said Fahim Asif, a manager of a hotel in Sylhet, who came to the fair yesterday with his wife and two children.
One foreign trader, who declined to give his name, blamed security concerns for the dismal presence of foreign companies. But the ones who made it are left underwhelmed.
"Although I have come here for the first time, people who took part in the past editions told me that the presence is not as high as in the previous occasions," said Ranvir Jouhta, who has come from Delhi to sell home textiles, shawls, cushions and bed covers.
Mohammad Saeid, a trader from Iran, complained of stall location, as his is situated inside a pavilion. "People don't come to my stall as they can't see my products from the aisle."
Meanwhile, Qasim Khurshid, a clothes trader from Jammu and Kashmir, is rather frustrated with the organisers. The fair commenced on Saturday but the pavilion where his stall is located is yet to be ready.
Khurshid, however, is not alone. Some other foreign traders too vented out their dissatisfaction, while suggesting the EPB rents out stalls and pavilions directly to companies and traders instead of going through the "organisers" acting as middlemen.
They also favoured the idea of a permanent structure for fairs, as some of the pavilions are open and not well-fenced, raising the risks of items being stolen.
Jane Wang, owner of the Thailand-based company Lucky Dragon, is selling jewellery items at prices ranging between Tk 500 and Tk 1,500. "Hopefully, the sales will be good," said Wang, who is attending the fair for the third time.
Although eight days have passed since the fair began, 65 out of 471 stalls were still found empty yesterday. Even some pavilions, which can accommodate about 10 to 20 stalls, were found half-empty.
But ABM Sazzad Hossain, assistant marketing manager of Brothers Furniture for sales and marketing, said although the number of visitors is low, they are all serious customers. “Most of them come to buy products, not just loiter in the fair. And we are also getting good responses."